A microchip in hand: saves time but raises questions

Epicentre says the microchips help with simple daily tasks like opening locked doors or operating office printers.

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One employee even created an automated smoothie machine that let users purchase the drinks using their chips.

The centre claims to be the first place in Sweden to use implants on a large scale.

Epicentre chief executive Patrick Mesterton is able to open many of the centre’s locked doors with just a quick wave of his left hand.

“So, the biggest benefit, I think, is convenience. It basically simplifies your life. That’s why I think people find it interesting, because you don’t have to have keys, you don’t have to use tags or anything else for using printers. You can do airline fares with it. You can also go to your local gym, et cetera. So it basically replaces a lot of things you have.”

The central Stockholm workplace is home to over a hundred companies and about 2,000 workers.

The small implants use Near Field Communication technology, or NFC, the same technology used in contactless credit cards or mobile payments.

When activated by a reader, a small amount of data can flow between the two devices via electromagnetic waves.

The implants are passive devices, meaning they contain information other devices can read but they cannot read information themselves.

Mr Mesterton says, at first, he was hesitant about the implant.

“Of course, putting things into your body is quite a big step to do, and it was, even for me at first, thinking like, ‘Why would I do this?’ But then, on the other hand, I mean, people have been implanting things into their body like pacemakers and stuff to control your heart.”

The implants are injected using preloaded syringes into the fleshy area of the hand just next to the thumb.

Employee Fredric Kaijser had a chip implanted into his right hand in September last year.

He says it is a great conversation-starter.

“It’s a dinner discussion, people ask me, ‘Are you chipped?’ and I say, ‘Yes, why not?’ And they all get excited about privacy issues and what that means and so forth. And for me, it’s just a matter of I like to try new things and just see it as more of an enabler and what that would bring into the future.”

But experts warn there are security and privacy issues to consider.

A microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, Ben Libberton, says hackers could conceivably gain huge amounts of information from embedded microchips.

He says that could range from people’s whereabouts to how frequently they go to the toilet.

“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone. Conceptually, you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that. All of that data could conceivably be collected. So then the question is, ‘What happens to it afterwards? What is it used for? Who’s going to be using it? Who is going to be seeing it?'”

In Australia, Skeeve Stevens is founder of Chip My Life, an Australian company that supplies microchips for personal use.

Mr Stevens says there is no law prohibiting Australians from having personal chips installed and many chips can be read by a smart phone.

Mr Stevens says the fastest-growing market is what he calls “lazy people,” those who simply want access to their cars, apartment buildings or workplaces.

But he says, along with personal use, microchips may also become more commonplace in medical settings and his company was currently trialling its use in aged care.

“Back in the old days, you used to wear your medi-bracelet. These days, you can just get a tiny implant, just like a cat or dog. And I worked in aged care for a number of years. On multiple occasions, we had high-care clients that were found wandering in the city. Police did not know what to do with them, people in their 80s and 90s with Alzheimer’s (disease). The other spectrum of the age is kids with autism or anyone who can’t communicate and might need to have interaction with some sort of authority.”